We purchased a used hiking backpack earlier this year, but aside from walks around the neighborhood and working in the yard, we’ve never really used it. Now that the yard is finally done, we are able to spend more time together as a family so this past weekend, we headed out on a more legitimate hike.

Since we didn’t know how Elijah would react to the adventure, I picked a hike that I’ve been avoiding throughout the years because of it’s simplicity. Simple is good in this case though. So we headed for Cougar Mountain to hike around the Anti-Aircraft Peak area (hike #3 in the Beyond Mt. Si book.)

This area was the site of some post-WW2 90mm anti-aircraft guns to help guard the Puget Sound Area. They were later replaced with a site for the Nike Ajax Missile Defense. None of that stuff is still operational or even present on the mountain anymore.

The hike itself went pretty well. We made it about 1.4 miles before Elijah decided he wasn’t loving it. We stopped for a break, but given how unhappy he was when he got back in the pack, we decided to take one of the shorter options to finish the hike at around 2.2 miles. He was almost falling asleep at the very end so we probably could have completed the entire planned hike.

I’d call it mostly a success though. I want to make a few modifications to the backpack to help hold him in place better. I also need to avoid wearing a hat with a big long string that he can pull on! Assuming that he gets more used to riding back there, I think we could tackle some slightly longer trips.

When the original Xbox came out, I was in college and couldn’t afford one. I’d never owned a game system in my life so it wasn’t a huge deal. I ended up winning one in a programming contest. When the Xbox 360 came out, I tried for weeks and weeks to find one in stock and finally did. I played that thing a LOT. When the Xbox One came out last fall, I was intrigued but with a new baby in the house, I had zero time to game. Well I still have zero time to game, but I recently picked up an Xbox One. I’ve only spent a half dozen hours or so playing it (Forza 5 of course), but it’s a nice device. Here are some of the key things I enjoy:

  • Kinect v2 - I never bought the first Kinect because I didn’t think it worked that well, but this new one works much better than the first one.
  • Voice - You can do a lot with voice commands through the Kinect. It remains to be seen how much I’ll actually use this but the geek in me is impressed with how well it works.
  • Sign In - Kinect recognizes who you are and signs you in to your gamertag.
  • Visuals - Graphics are obviously way better than the 360 but the difference isn’t as big as the leap in the previous generation (or at least it’s less noticeable.)
  • Xbox OS - The UI is a lot nicer and there’s actually a good OS behind it all. By that I mean that you can run two apps at the same time and have one snapped to the side of the screen. So for example you could have Skype open on the side while you’re playing a game, but you couldn’t run two games at the same time of course.
  • Digital Downloads - You can still buy discs but every single game is available as a download. Even though the game might take a long time to download, you can start playing it after just a few minutes. Prices are the same as if you bought discs. The advantage is that you never have to get up and swap discs! But you also lose out on reselling the game.

The biggest complaint I have (and I know I’m in the minority) is that the Xbox One doesn’t have a Windows Media Center extender application. That’s how I distribute TV around my house so I’ll need to keep an Xbox360 hooked up to each TV. I was hoping to replace one of them with the new Xbox One.

It’s an expensive toy, but if you’re a gamer, it’s a solid purchase.

I’ve written a couple times before about my Power BI project at work. The head of our group gave a presentation at the Worldwide Partner Conference that provides a nice overview of our future roadmap. To view it, go the WPC keynote page, click on “The Cloud for Modern Business” and then skip ahead to the 21 minute mark when James Phillips comes on stage.

Every month, Tyla and I sat Elijah down in our little homemade photo studio and took a series of pictures. It was an interesting photo challenge for me and I learned quite a bit. I’m not saying the results are professional, but I thought it was worth sharing what I learned.

  1. Consistent Lighting – The more consistent your lighting, the easier time you’ll have combining all the photos into a collage. We accomplished this by purchasing some halogen work lights. They’re very hot so I bounce the light off the ceiling instead of frying and blinding my son.
  2. Consistent Backdrop – Tyla bought a big white sheet and a big black sheet from a thrift store. In a corner of one room, I put 3M sticky hooks on the wall. I covered the top two corners of each sheet on both sides with packing tape and then punched a hole through the corners making a cheap grommet. Those holes go over the sticky hooks and bam, you’ve got a simple backdrop that’s easy to remove if you need the space.
  3. Consistent White Balance – I purchased a color calibration card and got in the habit of snapping one photo with that in the frame each time. This makes it super simple to get the white balance consistent across all the photos even if your lighting isn’t the same every time. Unfortunately I didn’t buy it until a few months into the project and I never could get those first few months to be just right (we also didn’t have the halogen lights until later in the project so that compounded the problem.)
  4. Reference Photos – If you’re going to take the same photos every month, make sure you list them out on a sheet of paper or just print off the first set that you get. At some point you’re bound to make a mistake and use the wrong prop with the wrong backdrop. You can see that in our dog photos.
  5. Tagging – I use Lightroom to store and edit my photos. Whether you use Lightroom too or if you just put them in a folder, make sure that as you’re editing the photos each month, you tag or otherwise set aside the ones that you’ll use when you group the whole series.

Every month seemed to present it’s own challenges. For example, he’s very mobile now so getting him to stay in one place long enough to take a photo is nearly impossible. Other times it was hard to find a time when he was happy and we were free. But in the end we got a fun series of pictures that shows how much he changed over the first year of his life. Kudos to Tyla for coming up with the idea.

For April Fools of my Senior year, we organized a prank on Pastor Schneider. At the beginning of religion class, we had the principal, Mr. Zanto, call Pastor into the office for a call from his wife (both of them were in on the joke.) Mr. Zanto agreed to watch our class while Pastor was gone.

As soon as Pastor left, we quickly moved all of the desks and even the overhead projector out the back door and set the classroom up outside. Getting the principal and his wife in on the gag turned out to be a good move because it mean that he couldn’t get too mad at us. A yearbook photographer was on hand to make sure this made it into the book.

Looking back at this photo, it’s interesting to see the people who weren’t looking back at the photo. Surely this was announced as “hey, smile for the camera” so I guess they didn’t think the joke was funny. Party poopers!

I don’t remember the first time that Dad and I found the Red Green Show, but we spent a lot of time together watching it. One episode that really cracked us up was when Harold read a letter from a reader with a broken keyboard. The O and the E were reversed. This all happened before everything was on the internet so I didn’t know what episode number it was or anything like that.

Thankfully now every episode of the Red Green Show is available (legally!) on YouTube. That still didn’t help me much though because there are hundreds of episodes to sift through. Then I found this page that lists out the subject of the “Male Call” segment of the show! Sure enough, it says that in the episode “Homemade Cheese” a reader writes a letter with a broken keyboard!

I found the episode on YouTube. Here it is for your enjoyment. The segment starts at the 19:06 mark.

It has been a long road and this will be a long post, but Tim and I are finally done with the back yard. I got the two gates built, installed and stained and on Saturday at noon, I declared the project done. “Done” here means that all the big pieces are completed and the yard can be locked up again. There are still plenty of smaller items like making one final dump run, adding bark chips, etc but those aren’t as urgent and I’ll just work them into my normal home improvement projects. The front yard is still a mess too, but that will sit for a couple months until Tim is available again. The front yard should be a lot smaller project too. So with all those caveats, I’m done!

When I show people photos of the finished project, it’s kind of anti-climactic. They look at the before photo and wonder why we changed anything. So let me go back and list out the reasons why we weren’t thrilled with our old back yard:

  • Any time it rained, the yard was muddy. Drainage was horrible/non-existent and water would sit in the yard for days after a heavy rain. From roughly November through May the grassy area was pretty much unusable.
  • The cedar swing was nice but it took up a big chunk of our yard. We only used it once or twice for photos because it was a giant spider web. As I started tearing it down, I also learned that it was very rotten and probably would have caused some serious injury before too much longer.
  • The fence was rotten and falling over. I had propped it up with some extra supports but those weren’t enough to hold it anymore.
  • The pine trees (arbor vitae) along the fence were getting close to the end of their life and were starting to brown. The thundercloud plum in the corner was disaster. Please don’t ever plant one of these trees.
  • Most of the bushes in the back yard were not pruned well by the previous owner and were overgrown.
  • The “retaining wall” appeared to be constructed with old concrete from the patio that was there before the new one was put in. It was about two feet high and I can’t tell you how many times it crumbled underneath me. We would have constantly been pulling Elijah back from it as he toddled around (if he could even make it there in the mud.)

So yes, on the surface it looked ok, but as we got more familiar with the yard, we knew it’s time had come. Now we have a beautiful new yard!

I made a Photosynth of the back yard in it’s current state. If you forgot what it looked like before, you can check out this previous Photosynth. Honestly I do like the way the old yard looked like it had been lived in and wasn’t brand new. This new one has so much more space though and it will grow in like the old one did (but without getting out of control!)

It should come as no surprise that I was collecting a lot of data about this project as we went. Here are some facts:

  • Major features completed: French drains, irrigation, retaining wall, and fence
  • Square feet of grass before: 475. Square feet of grass after: 1175
  • Number of retaining wall blocks: 441
  • Linear feet of fence: 152
  • Gates: 2
  • Posts: 21
  • Cedar fence panels: 332
  • Gallons of stain: 13.5
  • Nails: 2200
  • Yards of dirt added: 34
  • Home Depot Transactions: 32
  • Project calendar duration: 44 days
  • Actual days spent working: 41 days (only 3 days with no progress!)
  • Days affected by rain: 1
  • Estimated savings by doing it ourselves1: 58%
  • Total Hours spent: 310

1 This calculation was done using a standard contractor markup for materials and then assuming that professional labor would work 30% faster than we did (except for Tim.)

Here are a couple charts breaking down the cost by feature of the yard and then another one showing how much time each helper put into the yard. Thank you everyone! The cumulative hours chart shows that we kept the rapid pace up for the whole project. I don’t think we could have done it quicker without taking more vacation or hiring more help. Nearly every available hour was spent working on the yard.

And finally, here are some photos, starting with before:



And finally, here’s a complete list of all the timelapses I made along the way.

This is the last you’ll see of the yard updates for a couple months until we start on the front yard. Until then you’ll find me in the back yard admiring our work with meat on the grill and a beer in my hand.

Links to previous updates 1, 2 , 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7

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